It happens to everyone as they grow up. You find out who you are and what you want, and then you realize that people you’ve known forever don’t see things the way you do. So you keep the wonderful memories, but find yourself moving on.
~ Nicholas Sparks
It’s Australia Day, a national celebration of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet to Sydney Cove. A national holiday and day of celebration for all Australians. It’s a day I always looked forward to as a child and young adult – a day of barbeques and beach swims, of mateship and camaraderie.
But I’m fifty now, and other things pre-occupy me this morning as I drag the hose around our garden, filling the birdbaths and the bowls we’ve left out for the animals. I’ve never seen it this dry here at the farm. Australia’s been experiencing a catastrophic heatwave, and everything that was once green here in my little piece of paradise is dusty and brown. Since we’ve lived on this farm we’ve seen an alarming decline in bird populations, insects, marsupials and animals of all kinds. Some days I find it hard to breathe with this co-existing undercurrent of alarm.
I love this country. Her dust is in my veins. After my time in the Kimberley with my Aboriginal
Breaking as I watch the effects of global warming, at the loss of habitats and ecosystems and at the mass extinctions that are happening on our watch. Breaking as I watch self-interested adults governing nations for short term re-election victories instead of with a true vision for the Earth’s future. Breaking as I watch whole tracts of land laid waste by mining and land clearing. Breaking at the plastic in our oceans. Breaking as I watch our government turn people away from Australia’s shores or lock them up in detention for years, forgetting that we were all once boat people too. Breaking for the historic treatment of our indigenous nations.
I think of my Aboriginal Aunties. (Aunties through love and respect and their gracious inclusion of me in their family – not through blood.) I reflect on how they opened their arms to me, and shared wisdom and acceptance and grace when I was going through psychic awakening. In their culture I was normal, and these gifts were normal. Their kindness continues to shape and enrich me.
I think of the fact that their entire history was negated through the British policy of Terra Nullius at the time of white settlement, which obliterated Aboriginal sovereignty and rendered them invisible and without rights in their own land.
They are still, so often, invisible or made to feel that way. Like almost all indigenous nations around the world. We are losing their old ways, their wisdom, and their insights into the land right when we need them most.
I think about going shopping a few years ago on Racecourse Road at Ascot in Brisbane, with my friend
I felt sickened that my dear friends had been subject to such racist treatment. Yet they were the ones who apologised to me! They were sorry, I shouldn’t worry, it happened all the time. I’d had no idea…
In a country where nobody bats an eyelid if I sit with a group of friends who are of various ethnic origins because ‘Australia is multi-cultural’, my Aboriginal friends get treated like this almost daily.
I think of all the history we aren’t taught. Of the massacres and incarcerations and rights violations of Aboriginal people. I’d never known about them. We were never taught them at school. It was never discussed within our homes. For me this history hadn’t even existed. Until one day when I had a visceral introduction to that suffering.
I remember being at a waterhole in country Queensland many years ago. As I sat beside that tranquil water, I was gripped with stomach cramps so bad that I lay down on the earth, wretched with pain. To my mind came a brutal psychic vision and a knowing. I saw Aboriginal families writhing and dying after ingesting dampers (breads) laced with poison, and drinking from this waterhole, also poisoned. Could it be true? Surely, no! I researched local history later, and my vision was confirmed. It was well documented. And this type of poisoning was common. I began to dig around, and the more I looked the more I found. Atrocities. Injustices. Not just in our early days of settlement either. This racist treatment of Australia’s First Nation Peoples still goes on today.
How can I celebrate Australia Day with pride if I cannot also acknowledge these deep stains of injustice and cruelty? If I cannot acknowledge the pain and suffering of my indigenous friends and their families and ancestors.
How can we grow as a nation if we are unwilling to acknowledge and accept that there is a darker past upon which our nation has been built? How can we hold our heads high if this inequality is still entrenched?
I love my country. But today I’m filled with mixed emotions, not a need for celebration. I’m happy for all those who choose to celebrate. We live in a beautiful country. A lucky country. Lucky for some. Lucky for me. But while an entire cohort of our nation – our First Nation peoples – can’t know that same fortune, and while our planet is falling into ruins around us, it’s a hollow day for me.
With much love, Nicole ❤ xx
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12 thoughts on “My changing perspective on Australia Day”
Very thoughtful post, thank you for sharing.
My middle name is from a song. America the Beautiful (the name is Amber!). I’m proud to have a name for this beautiful land, I’m constantly saddened and often angered by the human aspect within it. Thankfully, there are strong good souls who steward and protect.
Your words resonate, help us remember, give us hope. Thank you.
I love Australia and all that makes this country great but like all countries we have a dark and sad chapter in our history. The treatment of the Aborigines. is not something anyone should be proud of but we cannot change the past all we can do is do better in the future.
What a wonderful post. I feel exactly the same today. I have been reading a lot about the early settlements in Brisbane & I had no idea how violent those early clashes were. It saddens me that I wasn’t taught any of this at school. It also sickens me that our aboriginal people are treated as second rate citizens when we have so much we can learn from them.
Nicole I so agree with your mixed emotions. I was talking with my cousin yesterday – she and her pastor husband were in Hermansberg for a number of years and as a child her parents helped support young women from New Guinea down for education in Australia. One of them is now local major back in her community. Lyn my cousin was hoping to do something that could include necessary lamentation as well as acknowledging the positives. An honest fullness. Much love Nikki
I have just been to a “Mourning in the Morning” smoking ceremony led by Kaurna elders in Adelaide. This ceremony was gentle yet powerful. It offered ways for Indigenous people to move forward in their grief without dishonouring the pain of their ancestors and invited those of us of non Indigenous backgrounds to reach back to our ancestors and acknowledge that they may be asking something of us, to help heal the pain they caused. If we must celebrate our nation on this date, then acknowledging the pain and need for mourning is essential.
So awful, we are dealing with a nationalist president in the states right now and it is awful
I have come to feel exactly the same way about the 4th of July (Independence Day) here in the U.S. Like you, I had no idea of what actually happened in our history with the Native Americans – other than they were depicted as “savages” who stood in the way of the white man’s westward march.
My father used to say, “If the white man won the battle, it was a victory. If the Indian won, it was a ‘massacre’.” I didn’t know – and wasn’t taught – about events like Wounded Knee and was aghast to learn of the “gift” of small-pox invested blankets to the Native Americans by some of our “founding fathers”.
I have lived in this country all my life and it has never felt less like home. I staunchly refuse to participate in events or holidays that highlight our “great nation”, I will not display or salute the flag, and I wouldn’t dream of reciting our “pledge of allegiance”.
While I can honestly say that I love this particular piece of Mother Earth here in the Great Lakes State of Michigan, I do not and cannot “love my country.”
I totally agree with what you have said. My husband and I have lived in Costa Rica for the past 20 years. Our initial reason for doing so was not political, but over the past couple of years, I have to say, I am so glad to be living where I am…in Pura Vida.
I still remember the horrific video I was shown in my first year of high school of what they did to Aboriginal babies… I haven’t celebrated Australia Day for 4yrs.. My heart is also breaking, we are destroying this earth all in the name of money!
I arrived here fifty four years ago and knew nothing in advance of how Aboriginal people had been treated or anything about Terra Nullius.
I went through the same transformation.
At first I celebrated Australia Day, as did convicts in the early days of the colony- grateful to have been released from their chains to live here.
I took part in a thong throwing contest. It was all about celebrating white settlement.
I have a library of books on Aboriginal culture, gathered together as I acquired a collection of exquisite old artefacts.
One mid 19th century book gives an actual eye witness account of the arrival of the first fleet and how the people panicked.
It was no time of celebration for them.
That was the beginning of 231 years of deep mourning as their people and culture were devastated.
Thank you Nicole. Beautifully said. It is time for us to move beyond nationalism that divides and find a way to reconnect with the spirit of this land, and in doing so, to recognise those who already know this connection.